Friday, 2 September 2011

The season starts here...

With characteristically perverse timing, I have decided to start a blog about all things Arsenal three games into a new season, with the team currently lying seventeenth in the Premier League table with a solitary but hard-earned point, and immediately after the worst result suffered by an Arsenal side in 115 years. I went and checked this, and Phil Soar & Martin Tyler's Official History of Arsenal (1994 edition) reliably informs me that on 12 December 1896 Woolwich Arsenal lost 8-0 to Loughborough in the Football League Division Two. But if you want to take some positive lessons from history, the next week the Gunners beat Blackpool 4-2 and Lincoln 6-2 the week after that - on Christmas Day, no less. And four seasons later we got our revenge on Loughborough, beating them 12-0 at home, which remains in the record books as Arsenal's record victory to this very day.

It's fair to say that Arsene Wenger's Arsenal are a very different side to the Woolwich team that turned out back in the cruel winter of 1896. But taking some tips from that side and bouncing back against Swansea would be a great way to silence the critics trumpeting the 'Arsenal in crisis' headlines. They're not the only ones, of course; the mood at Emirates recently has been muted to say the least - although I applaud the away fans at Old Trafford, who were superb up until the second or third goal, outsinging the home fans with rousing choruses of 'We Love You Arsenal' and 'Ooh to be a Gooner'. They fully deserve the club's offer of a free ticket.

Admittedly it was a poor performance, and one that exposed the side's frailties on the pitch as well as the perilously thin depth of the squad. Without Gibbs, Wilshere, Diaby, Vermaelen (injury), Sagna (illness), Gervinho, Frimpong and Alex Song (suspensions) it was always going to be difficult to get something out of the game. Arsenal fans can reflect, analyze, evaluate - that's exactly what most of us have done all week - but with some decisive moves made in the nick of time before another frenzied transfer window snapped shut, the Gunners already seem to be in a better place. Ok, there are no marquee signings and few of the names that were flying around the rumour mill a few weeks ago but look at who we have got in - a 6' 6" no-nonsense centre-back with 75 international caps to his name; the captain of South Korea who scored a hat-trick today in an AFC World Cup qualifier (alright, a 6-0 win over Lebanon, but still); an exciting and talented Brazilian full-back; Yossi Benayoun and Mikel Arteta - two creative midfielders with real PL experience. That's to add to Chamberlain, Jenks, and Gervinho - the latter of whom looks promising, and all of whom may yet turn out to be the players Wenger assures us they are. Oh, and there's also Joel Campbell, but he's just gone out on a season loan to Lorient. Perhaps just as well - I don't think many of us would be willing to put our faith in a 19-year old striker right now, but I hope he has a good season in Ligue 1.

Cynics might ask why we appeared to be scrabbling around at 10.45pm to add to a squad that most fans already thought was stretched back in pre-season, but there are any number of reasons for this state of affairs; mostly, it would seem, relating to the backroom changes at the club in the last few years and the somewhat murky financial situation - which does not seem to be as transparent as many fans would hope, but it is difficult to know how responsible Wenger is for this. Regardless, now is not the time to apportion blame or brood on wasted opportunities, deals that didn't happen, or the evils that Chelsea and City's oil millions have brought into the Premier League. Now is the time to get behind the team, not to write the season off already.
We have lost Cesc and Samir, but I don't believe Wenger has lost the plot - yet. This is football, and this is Arsenal - highs and lows. It is the lot of a Gooner, and of any true football fan. For all that Arsene prizes consistency and 14 successive seasons of Champions League football, we do, to a degree, expect elation and disappointment. The one makes the other all the sweeter. And that, perhaps, is one reason to remember the black day against Man United, 28 August 2011. But not too often.

So what now? Well, to quote the motto that sits proudly beneath the rather garish 125th anniversary crest on this season's new shirts - 'forward'!

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